Injuries to people resulting from dog bites are a real problem throughout the world. In the 1990's it became fashionable to blame only certain "dangerous" breeds, and much "Media-hype" pressurized governments to introduce breed specific legislation to address this. The logic and efficacy of such legislation has been the subject of a previous FECAVA symposium in 2001, the proceedings of which were printed in EJCAP 2002.
The Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) has been described as one of the most ill conceived pieces of legislation introduced into the UK. The resulting welfare problems and difficulties of enforcement will be discussed. These relate mainly to the fact that the legislation was:
Breed specific despite the difficulty of identifying these particular breeds
Automatic destruction order
Court given no discretionary powers
Reversal of the "burden of proof"
Sadly such a model is being copied in other European countries.
Whilst "dangerous breeds" may be a problem in some circumstances, consideration will be given as to whether legislation is really effective in reducing the incidence of dog bites.
This presentation summarises the facts presented by Tiny De Keuster at the FECAVA Blue Dog Symposium in Amsterdam 2005 (and subsequently published in the Autumn 2005 edition of EJCAP).
In a survey in Belgium (Gisle et al 2001) 1% of the population was found to be a victim of a dog bite incident that required medical attention. Further studies (Kahn et al 2004) showed that children under 16 years of age were twice as much at risk than adults. Further, most dog bite accidents in young children (median age 5 years) occur during everyday activities in the home environment with dog that is familiar to them. Eighty-six percent of the dog bites occurring at home were found to be triggered by an interaction initiated by the child. In many cases there was no parental supervision at the time.
There was no evidence of breed differences, nor evidence that any breed is safer with children
The Need for a Novel Education Approach
In the past, extensive information regarding interactions between dogs and children has been published in the veterinary and medical literature. However, most programmes are aimed at the age group of 7 years and older (i.e., not the main group at risk). Also these programmes focus mainly on public safety rules, such as how to behave when encountering an unfamiliar dog. In Europe, programmes intended to prevent bite accidents at home are very rare. In addition, most of the recommendations in dog bite prevention programmes are not based on research and this is a serious deficiency.
According to data from dog bite surveys, particular situations are more likely to lead to dog bite accidents than others. Most dog bites in children happened while there was no adult supervision. Therefore, a first step in this project was solving the question how to translate these data into a tailored prevention tool for children and parents. The idea of the blue dog was born.
Improving the Behaviour of Dogs
Tiny De Keuster will speak more about the Blue Dog in her presentation. It is clearly also important to make every effort to correctly socialise puppies that are destined to enter a family home. Breeders and veterinarians have an important role here. Dogs may also enter family homes via rescue shelters, and so it is important that their management within the shelter facilitates this transition.
The Blue dog project was initially aimed at "Western style" developed countries. However bites are a real issue in so-called developing countries, especially where endemic dog rabies is present. Although the actual scenarios leading to dog bites may be different, and the methods of education may need to be adapted, the lessons of the Blue Dog in educating children and parents how best to behave around dogs may have great relevance to many cultures. The author's experiences in Sri Lanka, India and Africa will be discussed.